Democratic Underground

Bush Administration Goes Full-Bore After Fuel Cells
January 17, 2002
by Why

The Bush Administration announced its intention to abandon pursuit of improvements in the efficiency of gasoline engines in favor of fuel-cell technology. The bad part is, such technology won't be practical for many years, perhaps a decade or more. In the meantime, we are left with the same old inefficient gas engines burning petroleum, mucking up the environment, and making us beholden to hostile entities in the Middle East. The naive analysis of this is that George isn't thinking things through as usual. The cynical analysis is that this malarkey about fuel cells is a smoke-screen designed to keep us dependent on ever-increasing amounts of oil for the next twenty or thirty years.

I have always had serious doubts that there aren't improvements to gas engines that could be quickly implemented, as well as policies that could be implemented to make optimum use of the technology we currently possess. Mr. Bush's new policy of eschewing short-term fixes in favor of long-term solutions might sound good from the podium, but the long-term is a long way off. I'm all for fuel-cell technology, but I don't think we can endure the status quo while waiting a decade or more for them. This is what I would consider a worthwhile short-term energy strategy:

1. Discourage the continued proliferation of sport-utility vehicles. Since CAFE went into effect, the US automobile industry has been fighting tooth and nail to not have to work toward increasing gas mileage. The latest manifestation of this struggle between industry and the regulators is the encouragement of the use of sport-utility vehicles as passenger vehicles. This is a scandalous waste of resources and a poke in the eye to those who would protect the environment and ensure our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. I would, if I were President, push to make CAFE apply equally to SUV's, and consider requiring drivers of SUV's above two and a half tons curb weight to obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL) to continue driving such vehicles. Anyone who drives something the size of a school bus should be tested and licensed appropriately.

2. Subsidize efficiency. Why throw money at auto manufacturers so they can pretend to develop fuel-efficiency technology while pushing ever-larger monster trucks to the car-buying public? I propose that the Department of Transportation provide rebates, direct to the buyer, to anyone would buy a new car that reflects common sense. This rebate would be progressive; the more efficient your new car, the more money you get back. For example, if your new car gets at least 30 MPG, you get a modest check, say, for $500. If it gets 40 MPG, you get a bigger check. This way, demand is created for such vehicles, which already exist, which will, if manufacturers want to make money, be met. Nothing talks louder in America than money.

3. Penalize wastefulness. Other countries encourage conservation with high excise taxes on gasoline. We do it by passing unenforceable laws like CAFE that the automobile industry screams about, saying, "we can't sell small cars and make money." Well, to an extent, they are right. If the best the Big Three can do is the Chevy Cavalier, why shouldn't you go out and buy a really huge monster truck if gas is only a buck a gallon? Hell, milk and bottled water cost more than unleaded gasoline in the USA. Why?

Typical car in Great Britain: Ford Escort, 5-spd. trans, 1.2 liter, 45 MPG.
Typical car in USA: Ford Explorer, auto trans, 5.0 liter, 15 MPG (maybe).
Source: Institute for Off The Cuff Statistics

Do any of you have any idea how much money the federal government spends ensuring the world's oil supply is secure? Let's see, the Defense Department spends $300,000,000,000.00+ annually; how much of that is going to ensure the Persian Gulf is safe from Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida? Whatever that figure is, you can bet not one red cent is reflected in the price of crude oil.

Of course, this goes right over the head of most conservatives, such as our incredibly dense pResident. They'd rather make overtures, propose the automotive equivalent of National Missile Defense, while preserving the status quo. In that case, I hope we're ready for the next attempt at terrorism within our borders, because as long as we remain dependent on Middle East oil, we will continue to bankroll people like Osama bin Laden whether we intend to or not.

Why publishes the independent center-left webzine Way Too Much Sense.

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